INDIAN WELLS, Calif. The marketing department should put Jeff Samardzija front and center again. Hes got the long hair, tattoos, Notre Dame connection and blue-collar attitude.
Samardzijas a Chicago guy. In a clubhouse full of players still trying to find their identities and make sure they say the right things to the media, who else could do an impression of Hawk Harrelson?
And then deliver the zinger: You could always get a good nap in during the Sox game.
The Cubs are still shopping for two legitimate starting pitchers during the general manager meetings at the Hyatt Regency outside Palm Springs, Calif. Theyve reportedly submitted a bid for the right to negotiate with Korean left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu, and are pushing to re-sign reliever Shawn Camp, their only free agent.
But in the back of their mind, the Cubs are also thinking about a contract extension for Samardzija. Industry sources confirmed on Thursday that the Cubs have discussed the possibility internally and reached out to Samardzijas camp. Even if its only preliminary and far from a slam dunk it shows that hes become a core player.
The Cubs dont have to hype Samardzija anymore or explain why they made a 10 million investment in an All-American wide receiver. A classic Jim Hendry signing has become a key piece for the Theo Epstein administration, perhaps the next in line for a new deal after the commitment to Starlin Castro last summer.
Im not going to comment on it, general manager Jed Hoyer said. But he had a great year and certainly is a guy we hope to have in a Cubs uniform for a long time. Hes a great competitor. I think hes the kind of guy that teammates really look up to. He has the potential down the road to be a really good leader.
So far, hes had to worry about himself as hes matured in the game. Its hard to be a leader when youre also trying to establish a career. But I think now that hes had a really great season, he can probably be that guy. I got nothing but positive things to say about the year he had. Getting to know him, hes really impressive.
At this time last year, Samardzija might have had two good half-seasons in the big leagues during an up-and-down career as a reliever. He lobbied Epstein for a shot in the rotation and responded by going 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA and getting stronger later in the season.
Samardzija posted a 2.58 ERA in 11 starts after the All-Star break. He notched 180 strikeouts in 174.2 innings before a precautionary September shutdown. He expects to be unleashed next season for 200 innings and assume some of the leadership responsibilities once held by Ryan Dempster.
Only Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price fired a fastball with a higher average velocity (95.5 mph) than Samardzija (95.1 mph), according to the online database at FanGraphs.
With that type of ceiling, Samardzija might not be in a hurry to sign over his three arbitration-eligible seasons. He will turn 28 next year and remains under club control through 2015. Hes insisted that he feels even younger than that because theres not as much wear and tear on his right arm after focusing on football for so long.
When asked back in August, Samardzija played it cool while the visiting clubhouse was buzzing with reports about Castros potential 76 million extension in between games of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds.
Arbitration is a good scenario for a player, Samardzija said that afternoon. It was put there by the players (union) and its a fair situation. Like Ive said all along, I signed a nice contract coming out of college and I dont have many expenses. I dont have that many bills to pay. So I dont really need any money to tell you the truth.
Im not asking for anything. Im asking to pitchIm here to work. Im not here to get paid. Im here to prove that I can play this game every fifth day and be a guy (who can) help take this team where we want to go.
Samardzija brings swagger and confidence to the clubhouse, and that could color any negotiation. During the final week of the season, he indicated that hed be willing to listen.
Obviously, Id like to hear what they have to say simply because this is where I want to be, Samardzija said. But then again, that also might mean theres really no rush to do anything. They have my rights for three more years and Ive openly stated a lot of times that this is where I want to be.
I wanted to be here when it wasnt going good and I still want to be here when (it gets) good. That hasnt changed. Obviously, Im excited to see the kind of pieces were going to add and the direction were going to go, because I want to be a big part of this solution in the future.
The Cubs still need a third baseman, an outfielder and some bullpen help, but they may have already found a No. 1 starter. Who knows what that might cost on the open market in 2016 and beyond?
But until then, the Cubs should be selling Samardzija jerseys alongside those of Castro and Anthony Rizzo, because a player once almost written off as a total bust is now part of Epsteins core.